Volunteers aim to preserve historic Tinsley Park and Darnall Cemeteries

Fly-tipping, vandalism and a lack of storage are just some of the challenges facing a group maintaining some of the city’s most historic cemeteries. 

The group of volunteers currently preserve the Tinsley Park and Darnall Cemeteries which are home to some notable burial sites.

Volunteer, Clare Tomlinson, 52, originally from the area but currently living in Hackenthorpe, said: “It makes such a big difference if you can go in a cemetery and see that it’s kept nicely. 

“But sometimes you see some, and they’re really overgrown and there’s litter all over. And even if there’s no connection to the area, to the people, or to me, I just find it really, really sad, as a human being, that there’s no respect being shown for the people in there.”

Volunteers have tended to the cemeteries since the group’s creation in 2020, Work they do includes edging, litter-picking, gardening, cleaning, composting and recycling. 

However, they have lost access to space where they stored bins, containers, and tools when it became the property of Sheffield City Council in March 2022.

As a consequence, the volunteer group no longer has any storage space within the cemetery and have to bring their own tools as well as carrying bins across the entire cemetery.

They have also lost access to many bins and all composting bins, meaning that it’s more difficult for them to litter-pick and recycle leaves.

A volunteer genealogy researcher, Suzanne Beatson, 49, from Mosborough, said: “Sadly, the cemetery building is getting really run down and showing signs of neglect.

“But it’s so difficult to get help from the authorities and our hands are tied as to what we can legally do. The area is also used for fly tipping and unsociable behaviour.”

Head Volunteer Norman Zide, 58, from Darnall, and Ms Beatson, have met with a local Attercliffe councillor to solve this problem. However he said “nothing ever came out of it”.

In spite of difficulties, the volunteers continue to work and support each other.

Mrs Tomlinson said: “I come in here, I forget time, I forget everything, and I’m just focused on what we’re doing. 

“We’ll have a little chat, and it can be about anything as well. It’s really random things, and people come and they’re all from different religious backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, some people have family in here. 

“There’s that mutual respect. You listen to people, you never judge, you never judge yourself.”

In fact, the group started as a community project inspired by a very well-known person of the area, Ernest Morley, known as the ‘Queen of Darnall’. 

Mr Zide, the creator of the group, admired Ernest, who was involved in a lot of charity and fundraising in Darnall throughout his life.

Like Ernest, Mr Zide felt like he had “a purpose to do something here”.

He added: “I used to admire him, thinking I’d love to be in the same position and give something back to the community. He inspired me. The project is aimed in his direction, because of what he did in Darnall.”

Like many in Tinsley and Darnall, Mrs Tomlinson also knows of Ernest.

She said: “The older generation above me all had heard of Ernest. It’s great that the respect and love that my grandparents had for Ernest has still carried on through four generations.”

Tinsley Park Cemetery is also home to the grave of another well-known person. Anne Elizabeth Dunwell, the victim of one of the most horrific unsolved crimes in the history of South Yorkshire. 

Anne was 13 years old when she was sexually assaulted and murdered in Maltby, Rotherham. She was going home when she was attacked and strangled with her own stockings.

Now, 59 years later, her murderer is yet to be found. However, the work of the volunteer group to preserve her grave continues.

It is a shared feeling between volunteers that even those who cannot physically come to volunteer, either because of illness or because they live abroad, are still members of the group. 

The volunteers are grateful to these people, who have supported them from afar. 

Mr Zide said: “Thank you to everyone who’s joined us so far and who’s contributed. Especially Tracey Wilson and Jamie Knight, who are always on hand to donate. It’s something the community needed.”

Communities in Tinsley and Darnall are grateful to the group of people volunteering at Tinsley Park Cemetery and Darnall Cemetery for the work they have done.

June Lowe, 61, originally from Attercliffe but now living in Stradbroke, said: “Where do I start? I have so much praise for this amazing group of people.

“Giving up their own precious time to see the smiles on the faces of others is simply priceless. The cemetery looks gorgeous, a sanctuary for so many of us who come to visit our loved ones resting in such a beautiful place.

“I can’t put into words what this means to me and many others. From the bottom of my heart I thank you for all you do for us. Thank you for being you.”

If you would like to donate or volunteer, contact Norman Zide and the Tinsley Park Cemetery Facebook group.

Written by Anabella Prodan

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